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The Legend of El Tiante

Luis Tiant's reputation lives on in New England, where he is forever linked to the 1975 Boston Red Sox, one of the best teams in the franchise's frustrating twentieth-century history
Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Entourage, July/August 2009

(continued from page 1)

Director Jonathan Hock says the film grew out of a chance meeting between Tiant, the moviemaking team of Peter and Bobby Farrelly and their principle producer, Kris Meyer. Upon hearing Tiant's story and learning of his desire to return to Cuba, they asked to make a film of it. Long story short, they found the baseball organization and joined up with it to get Tiant to Cuba. In the end, they had their movie.

Although Hock left for Cuba a non-cigar smoker, he says that he shared a morning and evening cigar with Tiant almost every day they were in Havana at the pitcher's insistence. "It was a lesson in so many ways, to slow down for that 45 minutes and learn to decompress. And to do it with Luis was just great," Hock says.

The return helped complete a chapter in Tiant's life. "It was emotional for me. But it was a great trip for me," Tiant says, getting animated about the things he saw and did upon his return to his birthplace. "But I didn't go in a big public way. I didn't wear a uniform. I didn't go to speak with anyone in the government. I'm not political. But now I can die tomorrow, and I'd be happy."

However, Tiant holds some clear ideas about the state of U.S.-Cuban relations, and was eager to discuss them after a week of news about the Obama Administration's decision to loosen many of the travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans back to their homeland.

"Look, the policy hasn't been working for 50 years. It's time to do something different," Tiant says matter-of-factly. "The Cuban people have been suffering for 50 years. Not one day, one week or one month, but for 50 years, trying to decide what they are going to do, stay or not. Sometimes whole families died trying to leave in boats. But now, we've got the window open, and it's time to open the door all the way."

One thing Tiant carried with him from Cuba was a love of cigars, which he began smoking when he was 17. If you remember his pitching motion, you also remember the cigar in his mouth in almost every picture ever taken of him off the mound and all the jokes about how he didn't take it out even to shower. Today, he has joined with his son Daniel to market a brand called El Tiante. It is the cigar that he helps hand out at the Big Smoke MGM Grand at Foxwoods.

Less than 10 minutes into the interview, he has lit one. "I started smoking 51 years ago, after I signed my contract with the Mexico City Tigers," Tiant says, his English heavily accented. "I smoked for a couple of years, stopped, started again, stopped and started again.

"It's a natural thing. It comes out of the ground," he adds, waving his cigar in front of his face, and his yellow tinted sunglasses. "You like to smoke, good. That's why I'm in this business. But they've been going after cigarettes, and they've included cigars, too. That's not right. There are a lot of other things in the air that are worse than cigar smoke."

Tiant began working on his own cigar brand more than seven years ago, but ran into some problems with production and consistency. He and his son Daniel decided it was best to come out with an entirely different cigar, and searched out Victor Calvo, of Nicaragua's Tabacalera Tambor, whose products they admired. "You know consistency is the most important thing," Tiant says, "and we don't have any problems with that now. The worst thing that can happen to you is if [your cigar] is not good week to week. The smokers won't come back if they don't like one."

The El Tiante brand is currently available in two blends, the 23 Series Habano and the 23 Series Corojo. (The number is a prominent one for Tiant: he was born on November 23, 1940, was 23 years old when he made his major league debut, and wore No. 23 on his back with the Red Sox.) The El Tiante brand has established a strong presence in the Northeast, but now Tiant, his son and Kevin Anderson, who works for them, are focusing their efforts on expanding across the United States and increasing their current production of 20,000 cigars a year.

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